To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Monday, March 8, 2021

Observercast

Fear Itself

on

BY ANN DAPICE

Nearly four months since the U.S. election and over a month since the inauguration, advice to U.S. citizens abounds.

In probably well-intentioned attempts to put a positive face on things, one common suggestion is the quote from an earlier president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Another response given is that “love overcomes hate” and still another tells us that we should “Give him a chance.” We are advised to meditate, ignore media reports, and pray.

The emotions of those who did not see their candidate succeed include disbelief, loss, depression, anger, and a feeling of helplessness – to name only a few. Mental health counselors report an increase in clients who are struggling to deal with election results and these same counselors say that they themselves are having problems with the new reality. Meanwhile, advice from the “winning side” is often a harsh scold that “Losers should get over it!”

Meanwhile, protest marches continue in cities across the nation as negative actions of the new administration extend in ways not previously imagined. These actions, along with the chaos, confusion and conflicting messages, make fear a dominant feeling among those who are not supporters of the president.

It should also be noted that fear played a major role during the campaign as it was used to manipulate people for votes. Well documented falsehoods were used as threats that basic human needs like work, healthcare and safety would be lost if he was not elected.

“God and country” nationalism was used to portray the U.S. as a victim exploited by other nations. Race, religion and gender were skillfully used to pit “us against them.”

As of this writing, there are numerous requests for investigations of Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election, including Russian ties to the president, his associates and cabinet members. Serious conflicts of interest of the administration, cabinet and staff are at stake.

Some connections – Russian oil production for example – are well known, some continue to surface, and there have been reports of other activities over a number of years. Meanwhile, the commitment by the president during the election campaign that he would disclose his tax returns after audit remains only a promise to this day, and the IRS has made it clear for some time that audit is not a legitimate excuse for not making tax returns public.

This is important information since these documents can show financial conflicts of interest in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, the promised clear separation of the president’s businesses from the presidency has not occurred.

A recent letter to the editor of an Oklahoma newspaper summarized frequent concerns that the president is an egomaniac, pathological liar who is racist, sexist, and homophobic, who ignores facts, is irrational and temperamental. The letter continued to say that the president is insulting and vulgar, a three times married philanderer who brags about groping women, and that as a businessman he often stiffed his employees and founded a for-profit non-accredited university that charged high tuition without providing promised content, ending finally in settled class-action lawsuits in November 2016.

So, what is the intent when people quote FDR’s words not to be fearful?

There are certainly people who spend their lives paralyzed by emotions that are not reality based. The list of psychological phobias is long: fear of spiders and snakes, fear of heights, open and closed places, and many more. However, documented actions during the new administration, and the encouragement of violence against certain people during his campaign, extend far beyond such phobias.

At this time, more than a hundred gravestones have just been violated at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia and a week earlier vandals destroyed headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Bomb threats have been reported at more than 100 Jewish community centers and day schools across the country. And a gunshot was fired through a Hebrew school classroom window at a synagogue in Evansville, IN. In Oklahoma and elsewhere the FBI is working with the Jewish schools and community centers that have received threats. Mosques have also been targeted in the U.S. and Canada. Four mosques have been burned in the last seven weeks. In Kansas two Indian American engineers were recently shot after a man yelled, “Get out of my country.” Later he was quoted as saying he shot two Iranians. One of the men he shot died.

The president issued a travel ban in late January for people coming from seven countries that have not been related to past terrorist activities but do have high Muslim populations. A Federal Appeals Court in Seattle issued a temporary halt to the ban but not before legal travelers including international students were prevented from traveling. Even though the ban is no longer in force, Muhammad Ali’s son, a U.S. citizen born in Philadelphia, was detained and questioned about his religion at a Florida airport just days ago.

Meanwhile, planned and announced deportations of undocumented immigrants are ongoing and families and children are anxious that they will be divided. As one of the groups targeted by the administration for months now, immigrants from Mexico have had to live with the stereotype of a president who has repeatedly described them as criminals and rapists despite research to the contrary. That there are undocumented immigrants from other nationalities who are not Hispanic or Muslim has seldom been mentioned.

So why are we advised not to be fearful? Some give counsel with the goal of alleviating discomfort – for them and others. But like pain, fear can warn us that something is wrong requiring attention.

Just as pain can alert us to possible disease, fear can be an appropriate response to very real threats. It is the alarm that tells us to check for what is real and what is only imagined. And as we find ourselves in 2017 in an exaggerated alternative universe of facts and information, it is even more important to find out what is real. After discovery of a problem, we can seek possible solutions.

What is clear is that denial is not appropriate at the individual or collective level. It is also important to determine if we have experienced fear for similar reasons previously. For minority groups presently targeted it is necessary to acknowledge post-traumatic stress from past genocide and suffering. Such histories can affect new responses to threats but also lead to greater sensitivity and compassion for all those who are threatened.

Fear is a legitimate response to the experiences of many of our citizens presently and must be treated as such. Neither denial nor tranquilizers will be effective or appropriate over time. The source of the fear must be addressed.

While threats can lead to the fight/freeze/flight physiology, fear can also serve as fuel to engage in positive actions that seek to remediate the causes of fear. Lessons in the present find people coming together, not just in protest, but aiding targeted groups. Muslims responded quickly to the damage to Jewish cemeteries. Before that members of the Jewish community had already stated that any government listing of Muslims would include their names. Sanctuary congregations and cities have for decades helped prevent deportations.

Individuals will choose different ways to respond according to their talents and abilities. Some will join protests, some will write letters, some will join “resist and persist” groups.

Over a long time there have been individuals and groups who stood up to abusive power, even genocide, and made a difference. Here we can learn from history and not be doomed to repeat it. – Tulsan Ann Dapice [Lenape/Cherokee] received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught and/or served as administrator at a number of universities including the University of Pennsylvania, Widener University, Penn State University, Rodgers State University and Goddard College, teaching courses in the social sciences, philosophy and Native American Studies and served as a Fellow at Coolidge Research Colloquium, Andover Newton Theological School. She is Executive Director, Institute of Values Inquiry, a 501(c)(3) research organization and Director of Education and Research for T.K. Wolf, Inc., a 501(c)(3) American Indian organization. She consults with the University of Pennsylvania on development of Native American Programs. Her cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research has been reported in professional journals, books, and academic presentations regionally, nationally and internationally – and in newspapers, radio, television, and the internet.